THE new government in Angola has made transparency and economic reform its much vaunted manifesto, which is buying it goodwill among international investors and is boosting its popularity at home. However, central tenets of control over the country’s political economy remain firmly entrenched with the same elite that has dominated Angola for generations
According to a report by UK-based business risk intelligence firm EXXAfrica, at the centre of the new political patronage structure stands former vice president Manuel Vicente, who has returned to the heart of political power in Angola and who through his family and close associates maintains an extraordinary position of influence over the economy.
Vicente was once part of the all-powerful ‘Triumvirate’ that dominated Angola’s business sphere. Through a network of investments and commercial holdings, Vicente is still one of the wealthiest and most influential powerbrokers in the country. Even though he was politically sidelined towards the end of the previous administration, he retains commercial interests across key sectors such as banking, telecoms, energy, and logistics.
The report says over the past year, Vicente has regained much control over the state oil company Sonangol, as well as the central bank and finance ministry, where his political allies have been appointed into leadership positions. His family is also creating new commercial ties with the family of the new president, João Lourenço, while his closest business associates are benefitting from recent contract allocations. By bringing Vicente back into a position of political influence and shielding him from various international corruption investigations, President João Lourenço has found a powerful ally in his campaign to consolidate his own authority and to prosecute members of the former president’s family.
However, the restoration of Manuel Vicente carries significant political, reputational, and transparency risks that are likely to undermine the government’s popular manifesto of probity and economic liberalisation. The report identifies a number of recent deals and local source intelligence that highlight the prevalence of such risks. It attempts to uncover the opaque network of overlapping commercial interests that once again threatens to capture Angola’s economy and to concentrate the country’s substantial wealth within the hands of a small political and business elite.